A young Kwame Onwuachi was cooking with his mother in their apartment in The Bronx when suddenly the apartment was overwhelmed by a strange smell. As he would write in his memoir, the, “thick fragrant smell of curry came on so strong both of us stopped what we were doing and looked up.” But it wasn’t actually the smell that he remembered. It was what his mother did next.
“Let’s go find it!” she said to him with palpable excitement and then together they raced down the hallways of each floor of their building trying to locate the source. As soon as the doors opened to the 3rd floor, they knew they were close. Without so much as a hesitation, his mother knocked on the door that had so beckoned her. “My name is Jewel,” she said confidently. “This is my son, Kwame. We live on the sixth floor. We couldn’t help but smell what you were cooking.”
The woman was stunned. Fear registered across her face. Were they about to complain? To say something offensive? No, that wasn’t his mother’s style. “It smells wonderful,” she said. “I don’t know how to say this, but we’d like to try it!”
How did Kwame go on to start his own catering company, graduate from the Culinary Institute, work at Per Se, start one of the most talked about restaurants in America before his 24th birthday? It can all be traced back to this surreal exchange. His mother, who was by no means a perfect person, showed him in that moment so many wonderful traits: Curiosity. Confidence. Assertiveness. Figureoutable-ness (as we’ve talked about before). Passion. Neighborliness.
These are all things we can and must teach out children in our own way. But it can start by following our nose.